Archive

WVAU.org

Published May 28, 2013 on WVAU.org

It may be bit early for “Best of 2013” lists, but it’s the middle of 2013 and we’re excited to share our most-repeated new albums from the last six months. This week, read about some of WVAU’s favorite records released in 2013.

Daft Punk sought to break the electronic musician mold, filling Random Access Memories with live instrumentation, most notably from the funkiest and sharpest guitarist of all time, Chic’s Nile Rodgers. For a robot duo so highly praised for their innovation in electronic dance music, much of their newest record’s acclaim is due to the contributions of their human collaborators.

Though far less hyped, German minimal dance producer Hendrik Weber was doing something similar earlier this year, under his Pantha du Prince project. He first experimented with bells on “Lay in a Shimmer,” the lead single off his 2010 record Black Noise but couldn’t let go of the chimes. Weber partnered with Norwegian percussion ensemble The Bell Laboratory to create Elements of Light, released in January this year by Rough Trade.

The flowing five-song composition balances soft twinkles and glaring clangs, occasionally picking up with a 4/4 kick drum to remind you this is the work of a techno producer and not a forward-thinking church choir. The songs seamlessly change, losing all concept of time over the record’s 40-minutes.

The bells — including a three-ton carillon (a contraption that chimes bells similarly to pressing a keyboard — see the “Spectral Split” video), gongs, choir chimes and hand bells — all sound as if from an earlier era, but mix perfectly with the pulsing electronic elements of today, and the chronological disconnect goes unnoticed. The featured xylophone, especially on “Spectral Split,” serves as sort of a bridge of the two types of sound.

It’s not a perfect record, but it’s a unique, dynamic and interesting listen. Neither 100 percent ambient nor totally danceable, it’s worth sitting back and soaking up the atmosphere, but the heights of “Particle,” “Photon” and “Spectral Split” will get heads bobbing.

I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I listened to this record for three months straight, scheming when I’d next be able to listen to it. Writing this now, I find myself hitting repeat. Hearing this album performed live and in its entirety on May 29 at West Park Church in Manhattan was transcendental, as was watching it performed on the massive, elaborate setup (my suspicions of the presence of a steel drum were confirmed!). There was no other choice for my favorite album of 2013 so far, and I’d be surprised if another record affects me as much in the next six months.

For my final project in my Fundamentals of News Design course at American University, I had to redesign an existing publication or website. WVAU has been stuck in mid-redesign, with a great new logo and social media designs done by Art Director Morgan Wheaton, but the website’s redesign was unfortunately halted due for administrative reasons with the AU Student Activities Department (which should hopefully be back in motion soon).

I decided to take WVAU’s new logo and design to a new medium — print. We had always hoped to make a zine for promotional and recruitment purposes, so I designed this with those uses in mind.

Published April 24, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

300-413-deerhunter

Official poster designed by Morgan Wheaton

Deerhunter’s art-rock noise reverberated off the domed ceiling of D.C.’s Sixth & I Synagogue, under which the capital’s college radio community united for a first-ever collaborative concert this week.

American University’s WVAU, University of Maryland-College Park’s WMUC and George Washington University’s WRGW joined musical forces to bring ambient punk rockers Deerhunter back to D.C. for the first time since October 2010 in the unprecedented District College Radio Presents show. (Georgetown University’s WGTB did not officially participate, but the station helped promote the event.)

“Everyone had really interesting events going on, but there was never really an initiative to put these forces together. And especially because we are working with people who have really cool interests and [are] booking people and have these awesome ideas … I just wanted to meet other people from the stations and see what we could do together.” Paula Mejia, general manager of WRGW and a senior at GW, said.

What they could do together turned out to be not only booking a mesmerizing, dynamic headlining act and selling out an 800+ seat venue in little over one week, but also playing up each station’s strengths — which according to Mejia are: WMUC showcasing live local talent, WVAU booking “awesome” acts and WRGW’s working with businesses and nonprofits — to best reintroduce college radio on the D.C. scene.

“I think it was good for us to put all those things together, all the things we’re good at, and show the big D.C. community what we can do. I think it sets a good legacy for us that we did this first really big show,” Emily Thompson said, live music director at WMUC and a senior at UMD.

While WMUC still operates on a frequency, that’s not the norm for college radio, including their D.C. counterparts. The Internet gives the stations a greater opportunity to reach more people, though it can be difficult to make noise on the depths of the web — especially to the extent of college radio’s influence in the heydey of the late ’80s and early ’90s with launching bands like Black Flag and Mission of Burma, Mejia said.

WVAU General Manager Emily White mentions her station’s unofficial slogan, which continues the theme of college radio stepping up on the local music scene.

“Our joke tagline is always ‘We Exist.’ College radio now sort of exists more for the people within it than the people outside of it, and I think an event like this is important because of that shared communal excitement we get to have and feel ownership of something and do something really cool,” White said. “But it’s also that little ‘hey! College radio! We’re still here! We’re doing something really cool’ to the community.”

Though this was not just an opportunity for district college radio to increase their off-campus presence — on-campus, the stations experienced bumps of support, from members to non-members.

WRGW’s Mejia said several underclassmen expressed interest in joining the station and WVAU’s White said students at American are aware that the station is more than that hallway window into the studio people use to stare at DJs like a fishbowl.

Another bonus for the universities: a limited number of reduced ticket prices, and even free tickets, were made available for students, aiding college radio’s mission and love for sharing music.

The April 22 District College Radio Presents show also marked the first night of Deerhunter’s latest string of shows playing material off their newest record Monomania, set to be released May 7 and available to stream until then via NPR Music. It was only the second time Deerhunter performed since August 2011 — the first being a mysterious, noisy performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Experiencing Deerhunter’s performance was an hour-long visit to frontman Bradford Cox’s strange, wonderful mind, and the Sixth & I Synagogue setting only added to the spiritual vibes. Deerhunter opened their set with a warped jam that led into the trance-inducing “Cryptograms,” from their 2007 record of the same name, covering the surfaces of the venue with noise and distortion. Cox donned a black wig and a white cheetah-print blouse hung on his lanky frame which bent around the stage over his guitar, mic and tambourine (maracas also made an appearance).

The trance continued through the main set closer, lead single and title track off the upcoming Monomania. Though a bit obvious to end with the new single, the song is perfect for that role, with continuous shouts “mono-monomania” and loud, psychedelic droning that likely left ears ringing for days. Before the song ended, Cox slinked off the stage leaving his band members to continue blowing minds (and ears).

New York’s experimental electronic artist MAS YSA was the first opener, appropriately setting the night’s tone with sampling choirs and Counting Crow’s emotional “Colorblind” piano track over dance beats. It’s easy to see why Deerhunter picked the second act Jackson Scott to open their upcoming shows; his odd presence and ambient rock is obviously Cox-inspired, though no where near as fully formed yet — Deerhunter’s soundcheck was noticeably more complete.

Fortunately the headliners weeded out any negativity and promptly set the audience in an hour-long daze.

A ticket to the hypnotic performance was much coveted and understandably so. WRGW GM Mejia said, “Our old GM posted on my Facebook that people were selling tickets on Craigslist, and he’s like, ‘There’s a black market for tickets. Good job.’ We made it.”

Full disclosure: Marissa Cetin is Web Director and a DJ at WVAU.

This article is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.

Published Dec. 28, 2012 on WVAU.org.

“Avant-pop.” “Ambient experimental.” “Ethereal.” “Baroque-pop.” Try as they might, the blogs cannot pin a clean tag on Julia Holter’s sophomore album Ekstasis.

Though they are not entirely wrong. Underneath the layers of antique atmosphere, swelling and staccato strings, floating vocals, oceanic synths, ambient echoes and theatrical structure, there is a pop record with hooks and melodies and harmonies.

The familiar pop foundation allows Holter to add all these meticulously composed, avant-garde elements to create a record unlike anything I have ever heard before.

“Ekstasis” means “to be outside of oneself,” accurate of how Holter must have felt while composing the record, and of my mindset when I sit down to listen and of the sounds she creates.

Album opener “Marienbad” shifts between movements, as if giving a sampler of what’s to come in the next 56 minutes. It starts with soft arpeggios leading into a sweet, bouncing verse and chorus. The song transitions into something more sinister, but you only notice once it has already happened. It stops, with sparse percussion to break the uncomfortable, relieved silence before the pleasant pop kicks back in, this time rewarding your bravery with joyful trumpet riffs.


(It’s worth nothing “Marienbad” is my no-brainer pick for my favorite song this year.)

The grand finale “This Is Ekstasis” entwines jangly, jazzy brass and strings seamlessly with layered chants of “Joy! Ekstasis!” and haunting vocal harmonies which feel as if they are coming from all different corners within your head.

I empathize with the critics who tried to put words to Ekstasis. It is hard. Holter’s careful composition of melodies and atmosphere defy all logic and stereotype of the “bedroom-pop” label under which blogs have lazily filed this record. Each listen, focused or casual, reveals new layers and peeling them back is such a joy.

For the reasons I could articulate and more so for the ones I could not, Julia Holter’s Ekstasis is my favorite album of 2012 and one of my favorite records ever.

In addition to our top 10 tracks and albums of 2012 countdown and accompanying overlooked records feature, the executive board at WVAU wanted to keep the round-up fun going a bit longer by highlighting our favorite covers of the year. We also looked ahead to 2013 and shared our predictions (/hopes and dreams) for the upcoming year. These are my contributions:

Songs of 2012: Favorite Cover Songs

Julia Holter – “Gold Dust Woman”

It would be disingenuous to not include a Fleetwood Mac cover in this list as literally a lot of artists took a stab at the iconic band’s catalogue. Off of Mojo Magazine‘s Rumours Revisited cover compilation, avant-pop goddess Julia Holter puts her antique atmospheric touch on “Gold Dust Woman,” without losing the folk quality of the original. Holter’s characteristic ambient layering and floating vocals with an anxious build benefit “Gold Dust Woman” without erasing connection to Rumours‘ original.

Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – “2”

It was a big year for Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby,” getting another makeover via Hype Williams’ pseudonym side-project, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland. Off the duo’s Black is Beautiful LP, “2” holds on to the soul of the original with the soft sweetness of Copeland’s dreamy vocals over minimal production.

Our Musical Wants and Needs for 2013

Factory Floor
The DFA Records darlings have been producing their post-industrial dance with a distinct video game pulse since forming in 2008, but have yet to release a real actual full-length record. Singles “Lying / A Wooden Box,” “(R E A L L O V E)” and “Two Different Ways” sustained fans for a few years, but banger “Fall Back,” which dropped in the opening days of 2013, has hopes high for the long-awaited LP.

A James Murphy-produced Arcade Fire album
This is literally super relevant to several of my interests.

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
It’s been six years since he brought SexyBack, which is enough time for it to disappear again, so JT’s due to seduce us again with his smooth pipes. If “Suit & Tie” is any indication for the rest of his material, I’m ready, too. (*NSYNC 4eva<3)

Julia Holter
In the last two months of 2012, Holter signed to Domino Records, released a “Goddess Eyes” single with two new tracks, rereleased March’s Ekstasis also with new live material and is oft tweeting about being in the studio. In February Holter is performing with another of my 2012 favorites Laurel Halo (June’s Quarantine), and if the stars align, I will be in the audience. The possibility that the two collaborate in 2013 would also be more than welcome. I just love Julia Holter so much, you guys.